Thursday, March 14, 2013

MOVIE REVIEWS #58: "FLIGHT", "THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT", "BEING FLYNN", "THE LONELIEST PLANET", "FRIENDS WITH KIDS", "17 GIRLS", "NORTH TEXAS SEA", "THE OTHER WOMAN", "GUN HILL ROAD" and MORE!

Well, I'm glad to announce a source for finding my blog. GuysNation has announced that they'll start posting links to my movie reviews on their website, guysnation.com, in fact they've already put a few links to mine on their website, which will also include, my ratings for the movies, with links to my reviews. I'm honored to be apart of GuysNation now, and hope that this will be a long and fruitful collaboration for the years to come.

Also, if some of you may have noticed that I've been a bit distracted lately, I've been busy outside of my blog, working on writing/producing a short film for someone for their Production class at UNLV. I'm hoping this'll be a fun little short, and as my first envoy into producing, I'm very anxious and nervous. Hopefully I'm dividing my time between this blog and this short film well, but in case, I've been lacking, I apologize, but I'm still a filmmaker, who happens to have a blog, and lately I've been more of a filmmaker than usual.

Oh, also, I'm sticking for this week with the additional google images pictures, when beneficial, (Most likely the Movie Reviews like this one) for the time being. I've been having trouble with Facebook posts of my blogs, not showing the thumbnails for the youtube clips I post on the blog, for some reason, and I thought that the google images would help, but they haven't so far. Anyway, we're trying experiment for another week. If you like it, hate it, let me know either way.

Well, not much else going on this week. Let's get right to this week's "RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!"

FLIGHT (2012) Director: Robert Zemeckis

2 1/2 STARS



There's a few different things that "Flight" does that are just...-. Well, they're wrong, particularly in the writing, which is why I'm somewhat confused by the film. "Flight" recieved two Oscar nominations last year, including one for writing, and that's the one that's confusing me. The writing is quite odd. I am a screenwriter by trade, so maybe a lot of people aren't going to catch the subtleties of what the movie is doing wrong, and maybe others will appreciate how many rules the script by John Gatins is breaking. Sometimes rulebreaking is fine, even encouraged, but here, they don't work. The fact that the movie is so well-made, is obviously confusing the issue, but that's hardly an excuse. The movie begins with Whip Whittaker (Oscar-nominee Denzel Washington), waking up to a phone call from his ex-wife in Orlando, hungover, with a naked girl, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez). He ends the call, drink a bit, snorts a line of cocaine, then gets dressed and ready for work. He's a pilot, and he's flying up to Atlanta. He boards the plane, makes a treacherous trek up through a heavy rainstorm that seems dangerous enough, and when that succeeds, he cancels beverage service, and pours a bunch of tiny bottles of vodka in his orange juice, before putting the plane on autopilot and hunching over the wheel asleep. Now, these scenes are intercut with scenes involving a heroine addict, Nicole (Kerry Reilly) who overdoses. Whip will meet Nicole at a hospital, after the airplane takes a nosedive, and through some very quick thinking, in the movie's best and most thrilling segments, he orchestrates an amazing manuever and crashes into a field, miraculously only killing six of the 102 on board, including two crew members. When these two characters meet, bumming smokes off each other in the stairwell, they run into a new character, a dying cancer patient. He comes in, talks for a little bit, about God and all, smokes a cigarette himself, then walks off with his IV drip in place and heads back to the cancer ward, and we never see him again. The first problem, why are we cutting to see Nicole, before she meets Whip? The movie is about Whip, and his alcoholism, but we get a prologue to a character, that we don't need, and as good as she is in the role, the cutting between Whip and Nicole, is odd. Odder still, is a screenwriting no-no, the deus ex machima that the cancer patient is. Comes in, says something and leaves, like an angel from heaven. Couldn't these two lost souls have gotten together, hypothetically, without interference from a dying smoker? I think they would've but there's an insistence throughout the movie on faith. "God landed that plane" safely, a few people explain. When they did the simulations with other pilots though, and nobody could do what Whip did, it seems obvious that Whip, did land that plane. He's been a pilot all his life. His father used to ride cropdusters we learn, when he escapes the media publicity by hiding out at his Dad's old farm, where he's hidden a liquor store's worth of alcohol which he throws down the drain, only to start drinking again the next day. His alcohol level was three times the legal driving limit, when the plane crashed, and he can face jail time, according to his old friend an FAA union rep Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), and his new lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle). There's a storied list of cinema's greatest drunks. Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend" and "Nicolas Cage" in "Leaving Las Vegas", both won Oscars for their performances. Others like Dudley Moore in "Arthur", and Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in "Days of Wine and Roses" were nominated, and others like Steve Buscemi in "Trees Lounge" and W.C. Fields in everything, are special. I place Washington's work here, just short of those marks. Not because he's bad or anything, he's good. You want to say Oscar-nomination worthy, I'll say okay, but it doesn't rank with his greatest performances like "Training Day" or "The Hurricane", or his greatest work, "Malcolm X". The real problem with the film is the script, and Zemeckis should probably be blamed as well, for shooting too much and not editing out correctly. There's a good movie in here somewhere, but it's being held back by a lackluster script that insists heavily on faith as a plot forwarding-device, which Whip correctly rejects most of the time, whether that'd be church visits or AA meetings, not because he lacks faith, but because he loves being intoxicated more. There's another good performance by John Goodman in this film too, and he seems to be having a career year in film, but overall, "Flight" has some strange problems, easily fixable problems that should've been noticed. It pains me to do this, 'cause I expecting so much out of this film, but I can't quite recommend it, because I expect more from people like Zemeckis and Washington.

THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT (2012) Director: Nicolas Stoller

2 1/2 STARS



As I'm going through Kieslowski's Three Colors Trilogy, I was surprised to see so much "White" in a comedy co-written by Jason Segal. "The Five-Year Engagement", starts out with a good idea, that by the end of the movie, had me bored to death. The couple are Tom and Violet (Segal, and Emily Blunt respectively). and they get engaged. He's a big-time sous chef as a major San Francisco restaurant, while she's a post-graduate psychology student, who's gotten accepted in the University of Michigan. After their engagement, her younger sister Suzie (Alison Brie) gets pregnant. Actueally it's "at" the engagement party, as she slept with Tom's friend and second-in-command chef, Alex (Chris Pratt), so they get married. Tom then quits his star-restaurant job to move to Michigan with his fiance, who's studying psychology, and the 2-year detour to their marriage, soon become a couple more, as there's apparently no top teer restaurants in Ann Arbor that would want a former 3-star caliber sous chef, and he ends up working at a deli owned by a stoner, Tarquin (Brian Posehn) while Violet gets lots of appreciation for her social experiments from her professor, Winton (Rhys Ifans), and has some funny fellow students in her group, like Mindy Kaling and Kevin Hart (I didn't feel like looking up their names). The comparisons to "White" rely on how the couple is essentially uneven unless their in their environment. In San Fran, Tom was a star on the rise, and now in Michigan, he's nothing, and the roles are reversed. Why they couldn't force their way into getting married earlier, I don't know. The passing of time is usually shown by the many funerals they end up going to, after their relatives, usually parents, keep dying out. The movie started out funny for me, but by the end of the movie, I was just waiting for it to end. I've spend a long time trying to find something thoughtful to write in this review and I really a hard time doing it. It's got moments that are funny, but it's way too long, I know five years, says so in the title, but we're now just waiting for the movie to end, once it stops being so funny we can't stop laughing, and it never really approaches that level of humor so, it's a long wait. Segal and Blunt are both talented, Segal wrote the wonderful comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," as well as "The Muppets",he's great on "How I Met Your Mother", and he's been in some good comedies lately, "I Love You, Man" most notably. "The Five-Year Engagement however, just falls flat. There's nothing wrong with it, but there's nothing special either, it's forgotten shortly after you see it.

BEING FLYNN (2012) Director: Paul Weitz

4 1/2 STARS



Somebody on one of my Facebook groups simply posted "Movies are getting too predictable these days." Well, I was in the mindset to take his side after one dismal and disappointing film after another this week, but I was caught, completely offguard, and pleasantly surprised this week by a film called "Being Flynn", and here's a movie that I had a very hard time predicting what was gonna happen next. I was surprised by a lot of this movie actually. The movie begins with narration from Jonathan Flynn (Robert De Niro) who claims that he along with Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger are America's great master novelists, and as soon as his book is finished, he will be too. He's a drunk, currently a cab driver, who's been in prison multiple times for forging checks, and is being evicted by his landlord. Then the movie, does something interesting, it switches narrators and moves Jonathan's son Nick (Paul Dano), who's in a tough spot lifewise as well, but like his father, he's decided to become a writer and begins telling Jonathan's story from his point of view, while also telling his story, of not having him around growing up, and living with his mother Jody (Julianne Moore) who worked two jobs all her life, before eventually killing herself. Nick rents a room at a place that was an old strip club, and starts to working at a homeless shelter to get near Denise (Olivia Thirlby) a friend of his roommate, who's fun but looks like she's had a hard life. It's when he's working at the homeless shelter, that both Jonathan and Nick's paths collide, as he the father comes in, looking for a bed. He's violent, homophobic, racist, and otherwise destructive, and as Nick begins his experimentation with drug abuse, everyone considers what to do with Jonathan. There's so much good stuff in this film, especially in the details. Let's start with the way the film is edited, and shot, and particularly, the way it's edited, in a different film, there's kinetic but creative pace to the editing, that wouldn't work in similar films, but it works damn-near perfectly here, 'cause it really suits this cross-narrative, quixotic storytelling here, that feels like a novel. I'll give an example here, there's a scene where through Nick's narration, he's introducing us to everyone who works in the homeless shelter, and each person, kinda Spike Lee-like speaks some truth about them to the camera, and the final one they get to is a character played by Lili Taylor, one of the greatest of all American actresses, who you've seen a million times, but don't always know her name. We get told, in her introduction, that she's a former crack addict and prostitute, and that in a few years, she going to go back to that life, and die. Now, 99/100 movies, she's gonna become an important tertiary part of the film, with that exact description, and we're eventually gonna, see her death or have it alluded to later on, or have the character meet at her funeral or something; this is movie 100. We know that knowledge, we think about it, everytime she's onscreen, and there's no mention of it, at all, after that. It adds an element to the movie that really helps the film, especially when, we only see this Lili Taylor character this way. Also, De Niro, uh, you know, I haven't seen "Silver Linings Playbook" yet, I guess people are upset that he isn't in better movies most of the time, and I guess they're really pissed off about it, 'cause he's De Niro, and as one critic, I wanna say Richard Roeper, but I'm not sure, "There's a whole generation of people who only know him as a Focker". First of all, he wasn't a Focker, in the movie, it was Ben Stiller's and his parents, Hoffman and Streisand who were Fockers, (And I know that, not having seen any of the sequels btw. Wasn't exactly crazy about the original to begin with either.) but you know, he is an actor. Actors, especially older actors, it's not like every movie, he can play Jake La Motta, everybody's been a little too mean on him, and here is a great De Niro performance, that most of us probably haven't seen before. Also, great, Paul Dano, this is maybe the best part he's had since "There Will Be Blood". He's always been, kind of a strange casting choice, no matter what he's in, especially with these protagonist, leading roles; he was in a movie called "Ruby Sparks" earlier this year, where also played a writer and I liked that movie too, but it still seemed a little unnatural. I wouldn't have thought this role would've worked well with him, either, but instead, he's absolutely nails it. I was shocked by how good he was quite frankly. Paul Weitz, the older of the Weitz brothers, most famous for "American Pie", of course they done other films as well, together like "About a Boy", and separately. Chris directed, a great film called "A Better Life" last year. Paul's done some decent minor stuff like "In Good Company" and "American Dreamz", but this is his best solo directing film so far, by a mile. It was based on a story called "Another Bullshit Night in Sick City" by Nick Flynn, so I'm going to assume it's somewhat autobiographical, and I kinda want to look more into the author now. I guess I'm a little reluctant to give it 5 STARS, 'cause I've seen so much mediocrity and crap this week, that I don't want my blinders burdened by something that's just better-than-everything-else, and not great. Maybe it is partly the first halfway decent thing I've seen this week, but thankfully it's better than halfway-decent, it's actually very good.

THE LONELIEST PLANET (2012) Director: Julia Loktev

3 STARS



Describing "The Loneliest Planet" is a chore. The films follows a couple, as they make a trek through Caucausus Mountains of Georgia. Georgia, the former Soviet republic, not the U.S. state. Why there? Why have these two chosen to go on this trip at all? That never gets explained. It doesn't really matter much, all that we really need to know is that Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) have chosen to go. Their both foreigners who are engaged, even though neither can speak their native language, and Gael can only speak just enough English for Nica. They have a tour guide, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze) lead them on the trip. He talks and talks, which is what Alex doesn't do much of. They get into occasional trouble, like Alex getting caught in a stream he couldn't completely cross, and at one point they run into a dangerous outlawed military group, but that exchange ends in far less violent ways then it could've. I guess the real story of the film is whether the couple's romance will survive this trip. There's one pivotal scene involving Nica and Dato, who she has grown to appreciate.Mostly the movie is a bunch of longshots of the trio working their way through the terrain, and it does seem lonely, like no one else is around in the world. I guess part of the reason I'm barely recommending this is because I've never seen a movie from Georgia before, and while, the mountainous and repetitive terrain will not be the cup of tea for some, I found it intriguing. That, and I grow to like Hani Furstenberg's performance, which is far more complicated then it seems at first, and the way her character changes, and the actions she takes is quite intriguing to me. It's based on a short story by Tom Bissell and was directed by Julia Loktev who made a spectactular film called "Day Night Day Night", about a young suicide bomber, that follows her, for two days, as she's supposed to blow up Times Square. She's clearly talented, and she's talented enough to make this movie, about a different a film as one could make, with far less inherent drama, even remotely interesting. So, for me, a mild recommendation. I'm glad I saw it, not sure I ever need to see it again though.

FRIENDS WITH KIDS  (2012) Director: Jennifer Westheldt

2 1/2 STARS



You know, in one of my facebook film groups, one where usually people talk about boring action movies and comic book films, somebody lately has been pushing for more discussion on romantic-comedies. I'm supporting her, because I think romantic-comedies like all genres of film, should be discussed. (Particularly when the group forum doesn't specify any genre in particular.) Of course, the obvious problem is that good romantic comedies have been few and far between in recent years. Recent decades in some cases, it seems like. One of the last really good recent ones, was "Kissing Jessica Stein", which was made by Writer/director Jennifer Westheldt. She's worked a lot in New York since, and acts often on TV and occasionally in films. This is heard third feature, after "...Jessica Stein", and the barely-released "Ira & Abby", this one's called "Friends with Kids," and it's another film that's making me wonder, not only was Westheldt probably just a one-hit wonder, but also, if we're coming to the end of romantic-comedies in general. The main characters are Julie and Jason (Westheldt and Adam Scott), who've been best friends for years, and are so close that it's often presumed that with one, you get the other, and they're often invited on nights out with their couple friends like that. They're in their thirties now, and with no real prospects for lifelong relationships in the near future, they decide somewhat rashly to just, have a kid on their own, and split custody. Essentially, they go straight into the divorce, while skipping the marriage. (LOL. Sorry, thinking of my favorite Burns and Allen joke. BURNS: What, he's sick? What are his symptoms? ALLEN: Symptons. He didn't have any symptoms BURNS: No symptoms? ALLEN: No, he went straight to the disease.) Anyway, their friends Alex and Leslie (Chris O'Dowd and Maya Rudolph) and Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig), who are both now married and struggling with their own kids,  think they're crazy, but they decide to have a night of uncomfortable sex, and then they have a kid. Naturally, after having the kid, they both soon get into their own relationships. Jason meets Mary Jane (Megan Fox) walking through the park, who's just Jason's type. Beautiful, young with big tits. This gets stressed a lot throughout the film by the way, that Jason loves big tits. (Not sure that's a personality quirk, a fetish, or just, him being a man, but apparently it's supposed to be funny.) Anyway, Mary Jane is nymphomaniac who hates kids. Julie meets the way-too-nice-for-his-own-good Kurt (Edward Burns) and soon, ski trips become increasingly uncomfortable. I want to point out that the most interesting couple in the film in Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig, who are heading closer and closer towards divorce throughout the film. In the beginning of the film, they can't even go to a restaurant without spending twenty minutes fucking in the bathroom, but the way this relationship devolves is quite fascinating. In a better movie, Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig might be getting Oscar nominations. A better movie would've focused on them, and not Julie and Jason however. It's a cute premise and a nice modern setup, but it's also too simple, and we know that eventually, these two are gonna end up together. They're a pseudo-couple already. I would've forgiven that, if it could've gotten away by doing it, without some grand gestures at the end like all other rom-coms, but it doesn't. It's a sad state of the genre when, as I'm saying this, I realize that "Friends with Kids" is still one of the better rom-coms I've seen in months. Can't recommend it unfortunately, 'cause I know Westfeldt can and has done better. And also, I know this is gonna sound mean saying this, but she did not look good in this movie, she looked older than, I think she was meant to look, and I found that frustrating, but especially in some of her closeups, there seemed to be something unnatural about how she looked. Maybe it was just her getting older, maybe it was the lighting or that her constantly being photographed on the right side of her face, finally got on my nerves, but whatever it was, it detracted from the film for me.

17 GIRLS (2012) Director: Delphine Coulin and Muriel Coulin

3 1/2 STARS



I remembered hearing this story when it first came out. It was either on the news or apart of Jay Leno's monologue about this high school in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where a bunch of teenagers, got pregnant, all at the same time, with a plan to have all the kids be raised by the group of expected mothers. You know, if teenage girls weren't stupid, they'd rule the world. Supposedly they're smarter, and more mature than teenage boys, and many of them are pretty enough that they can afford to be as selective as possibly in finding a mate, but boy, they can be stupid. In "17 Girls", which is a French film, the first girl to become pregnant is Camille (Louise Grinberg), which was an accident. After that, her friends started formulating a plan to get pregnant themselves. Pretty soon, the school nurse (Noemie Lvovsky) is reporting five pregnancies at the school, and the parents and the principle are in a panic. They theorize that showing childbirth films, and filling the students with anti-sex pamphlets and testing them to no end, could bring them down a bit. Not that that would work under normal high school circumstances, much less, when the girls have started scheming together, and are already deep in a plot that's so preposterous that the parents' wouldn't have dreamed up or noticed the scenario until it was way too late. You'd think, once the number got up to 16, and the schoolgirls would leave the nurses station, after pregnancy tests, and go celebrate with their clique that, they would've noticed something was afoot other than simply, not enough teenagers using protection. I'm glad that this was made as a foreign film; it's the first feature by sisters, Delphine and Muriel Coulin, and I think that was smart, 'cause they seem to take a far more unexploited and realistic approach to how something like this could've happen, where, I fear that if this was an American film, it would've come out like a "Heathers"-level satire. It's not exactly the most entertaining film, and there are a few instances where you're thinking "Really?", like when the girls find out, that one of them has been faking her pregnancies, by pulling on her body pillow, which they destroy and down-like feathers come up, leading to a pillow fight. (BTW, how come after they all get pregnant, are they even allowed to hang out together, presumably in somebody's house, where an adult or guardian would have to live?) One of the last images is a striking night scene, where some of the girls and guys around, begin playing soccer with a flaming soccer ball on the beach. I guess there's symbolistic nature to that shot, but I just thought the image itself was memorable. The Coutin Sisters certainly know how to pick interesting material, that's for sure. "17 Girls", has some flaws, but then again, the movie is about a bunch of girls who do something very, very stupid. "I'll be at school 80% of the time, and I'll be a Mom, the other 20%", one of them figures. You know what really scares me though? Not the seventeen girls, as dumb as they were, they still were all able to get boys just to help them do this. Oh, for sure they didn't know, but as dumb as teenage girls are, they're smarter than teenage boys, and god help them, they can make boys do anything.

NORTH SEA TEXAS (2012) Director: Bavo DiFurne

2 1/2 STARS



"North Texas Sea" is Beglian filmmaker Bavo DiFurne's first foray into feature-length films, after over two decades of being one of the world's premiere short film filmmakers. A fact I didn't learn until reading Ignaty Vighnevetsly's guest review of the film on rogerebert.com, but when he said that, the movie felt like a short that was trying to be extended into a feature, that's when the light bulb clicked, and I realized, "That is the problem." 'Cause it seems like there was something here, 'cause there were flashes of a decent story, but I couldn't exactly grasp onto it. The story is about a fifteen-year old boy, Pim (Ben Van den Heuvel) who's in love with an 18-year old boy Gino (Jelle Florizoone). Pim is gay, and occasionally dresses up in his mother clothes. His mother, Yvette (Mathias Vergels) is flamboyant, plays an accordian, dresses in a vamp-like (Vamp as in, seductress not vampire) yellow dress to go out occasionally, and is otherwise fairly useless as a parent. Gino's girlfriend Sabrina (Nina Marie Kortekaas) is attracted to Pim, and occasionally his mother tries some deception to set them up, but through Pim's drawings, he likes to draws, she knows he's clearly fascinated with Gino. Gino, seems to like the attention of Pim, but keeps him at arm's length, although they occasionally make out by the river. There's a metaphor with tents, and outdoors that I couldn't fully grasp either. "North Sea Texas," or "Noordzee, Texas", it's originaly is a bunch of interesting parts, I guess, but there's no real connection between them, to really put everything together. I kept fading out, and then looking back at the screen, seeing something new, saying "Oh, that's interesting," or "Oh, that's what going on now," and I thought I was just dozing and catching up, but actually, I was paying pretty close attention. I still felt like I was missing something, but I checked again, and it wasn't there. There sporadic moments of intrigue and beauty, but they're few and far between. There's a character named Zoltan (Thomas Coumans), who apparently also lived with Pim and his mother at one point, and has grown up, and seems grateful, and everyone seems to like him, but I had trouble even grasping the point of his character. I also don't get the title either; I don't know what Texas has to do with anything here either. It's got it's moments, it's clearly a good filmmaker, but maybe he should stick to short films.

THE OTHER WOMAN (2011) Director: Don Roos

1 STAR



After being on the shelf for two years, Don Roos's film, "The Other Woman", finally got a theatrical release. Now, he started out in TV, and he can be a very sharp comedy writer. His best film for instance, "The Opposite of Sex" for instance. He's also written "Marley & Me", and he wrote and directed the underrated "Happy Endings". (Not the TV show, something else) Occasionally he'll be somewhat successful when he's not directing a drama, like "Single White Female", but his first foray into drama was "Bounce", where Ben Affleck played, a not-so-memorable cinematic drunk, a film that felt like TV melodrama, and unfortunately "The Other Woman" is way, worse than that film is. The other woman, is Emilia Greenleaf (Natalie Portman) a former paralegal who got involved with her then-married boss, Jack (Scott Cohen) and now they're married, and they split custody of their son William (Charlie Tahan) with his ex-wife, a major Madison Avenue gynecologist Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow, Roos's collaborator). We see in flashbacks how they got together, and that they got married after Emilia got pregnant, but since they lost the baby shortly after she was born, Emilia has been emotional and cold, although she tries desperately to befriend William. She's also holding in emotions after her father  Sheldon (Michael Christofer) left the family years ago. This movie is based on a novel by Ayelet Waldman, and it might've worked a little bit better in novel form, but this is Lifetime Movie-of-the-week territory here. Everything is morose and downtrodden. Basically it feels like, especially with Portman character, she's supposed to react emotional depending on the character she's dealing with in the room at that time, like all the characters are basically given an emotion and told to play that. Emilia's hiding a few secrets throughout the film, I won't give away what it is, but it's one of those secrets that's supposed to make us, not only have more sympathy for her (Not that we would've already, they've positioned in a tough enough spot) but also one that would change our opinions on everything that we've seen until now. Frankly, it was hard enough sitting through the movie to get to that point. Lisa Kudrow by the way, has one-note essentially, and that's of an unlovable vindictive bitch. If you could find another one, let me know, but there's no added dimension to her character, which is surprising the hell out of me, consider Don Roos, who's given her great parts in the past, and even something, would've been beneficial, she's playing a caricature really. This was slow and painful to sit through. There's gotta be something here that's material for this film, maybe as a dark comedy, but as it stands "The Other Woman" is simply unbearable. I hope for Roos, this is just an anomaly.

GUN HILL ROAD (2012) Director: Rasheed Ernesto Green

2 1/2 STARS



"Gun Hill Road" has all the elements of an intriguing film, and somehow by the end, nothing really felt complete. The film begins is prison, right before Enrique (Esai Morales) is to be released after being jailed for a couple years, but he finds time to stab a fellow inmate in the foot, presumably for being homosexual. It's been three years, and his family is celebrating his return. His wife Angela (Judy Reyes) has been seeing another man and has fallin' out of love with her husband, but she welcomes him home anyway. She's also been hiding the news of Michael (Harmony Santana), who's begun, secretively, taking hormone replacement shots and begun going out in drag.. He yearns at couple in a stairwell, making out, and ogles the girl being felt up, wishing for the day when he's in her shoes. He's begun calling himself Vanessa, and wearing women's clothes outside of school, and even finds a boyfriend, Hector (Vincent Larescu). These developments, which Enrique tries to scare out of his son, anger him. In one disturbing scene, when Michael comes home wearing a hoodie, hiding his long hair, he forces him into a bathroom and cuts it cuts. In another, he forces him to be with a prostitute, an event that makes Michael borderline suicidal. I didn't know the actor who played Michael going in, or after watching the movie, and I was shocked to learn that A. it was a girl, who played him, and that Harmony Santana is also a transgendered teen; this is her first performance, and it's very subtle, but also the best thing about the film. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but compare "Gun Hill Road" to "Pariah," which came out last year, a much better movie about an African-American family, trying to deal with the fact that their daughter was a lesbian. I'm glad to see any film, much less a Latino-American film, deal with this subject matter, but it seems to start and stop in multiple directions, when I think a more narrower focus would've done better. The movie seems to slow and start with the drama, and never in a efficient rhythm. Apparently this film was based the characters loosely on Bronx Director Rasheed Ernesto Green's homelife. There's a wonderful sense of place, but I'm not sure it's an entire film. I'm a little bit on the fence here, 'cause there's a lot of stuff I like, but I think a better movie could've been made here, and I get that out of my head. It's a tough call, but I can't quite recommend "Gun Hill Road", as a film, but I certainly won't deny people watching it, especially for the performances, particularly by Morales, and especially by young Harmony Santana.

TWO WOMEN (1961) Director: Vittorio Di Sica

4 STARS



Note: I'm considering my review of "Two Women" to be incomplete, because while I watched the movie, the DVD that I saw it on, had only an English-dubbed audio track, instead of seeing it, in it's original Italian. Normally, I don't mind that, especially with old Italian movies, which were all redubbed later to begin, a practice that's still somewhat common even today, but having seen parts of the movie, previously in Italian, with English subtitles, I think it takes something away from the film to review an English-dubbed version of the film. 

Sophia Loren was only twenty-five at the time she played a mother with a teenage daughter at the end of WWII in "Two Women", which earned her the first acting Oscar ever awarded for a foreign language performance. The movie is essentially the forgotten one of Di Sica's Italian Neorealism films, all written by Cesare Zavattani , probably because it has named actors in it, as oppose to the amateur actors he used in "The Bicycle Thief," "Shoeshine," and "Umberto D", and also because it's technically a period piece. As Rome is starting to get invaded, Cesira (Loren) and her 13-year-old Rosetta (Eleonora Brown), decide to head out to Cesira's hometown in the mountains, after their house is bombed. First they go by train, and soon by foot. Occasionally running into some friendly neighbors, and some bullheaded members of Mussolini's army, out searching for deserters. On the journey, they get accompanied by Michele (Jean Paul Belmondo) a schoolteacher with political opinions, but falls in love with Cesira. He doesn't know or understand, quite how to deal with that, and it doesn't seem for most of the film that romance is anywhere near Cesira's mind. Loren is of course, beautiful, even in this film which makes her look about as roughed up as possible, especially after the brutal rape scene, where her and her daughter are attacked by Nazis that Michele was trying to help retreat from the country, shortly after Mussolini's arrest, and the war is essentially over. Later, they realize that Michele, was killed in the attack, and the last scene of mother and daughter, the night after, still recovering, still finding their home, and fighting each other are ruthlessly brutal and tough to watch. "Two Women" as a film, certainly does lack compared to Di Sica's best films, but it's still a strong film, and Loren's performance helps us realize just how special an actress she can be. She's probably more well-known as a sex symbol nowadays than she is an actress, but this is the film that changes that perception completely. Unbelievably, she was supposed to originally play the daughter to Anna Magnani's mother role, when George Cukor was originally gonna direct the film, an idea that seems completely ridiculous now. (Magnani objected to it, because Loren was too tall, saying she'd have to keep looking up at her.) Good thing that didn't go through. Di Sica's the right filmmaker for this material; Cukor would glamorized Loren, and Di Sica makes her look real. Beautiful, yet beaten, but real.



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